During a long media cycle for the movie, Jordan Peele appeared on numerous podcasts, including “Fresh Air” and “Nerdist,” and showed up in print publications, such as GQ and The New York Times. The Huffington Post suggested that “Get Out” is the type of movie the Oscars should pay attention to, and praised the ending as “a reason to go to the movies.”
If you’re reading this, you are probably, like us, already craving another great “social thriller” to watch ASAP.
Although it may be a while before a new movie comes out, it’s already possible to discover an older film that may be brand new to you. During numerous interviews, Peele referenced “The Stepford Wives” as a good choice.
But in any case, it was a welcome surprise when streaming movie service Warner Archive reached out about a new curation by old Hollywood podcast host extraordinaire Karina Longworth, the creator of the popular “You Must Remember This.”
The curated list, which mostly focuses on movies from the mid-1900s, including “West Point” (1928), “Bombshell” (1933), “The Star” (1952) and “The Prince and the Showgirl” (1957), features a flick that might just interest “Get Out” fans.
I think the most essential film on the list is “Cat People.” It’s definitely something I would recommend for people who think they don’t like horror movies. It’s a masterclass in filmmaking with budgetary limitations, and its political allegory (critiquing the idea of American security as being synonymous with homogeneity, and the fear of the other) couldn’t be more timely.
HuffPost sent a few follow-up questions Longworth’s way to get a further explanation of “Cat People” and its role in culture. Her responses are below.
You said “Cat People” is the most essential film on this list in your mind, due to its ability to create a successful political allegory on a low budget. Could you talk a bit more in length about the message the movie was trying to present and your understanding of how it was received?
Longworth: There’s a part in the “YMRT” episode I did on “Cat People’s” producer Val Lewton, in which Lewton is in a meeting at RKO and an executive says to him, “Remember, we don’t want any ‘messages’ in our movies.” Lewton responded, “Sorry, but my movies do have messages. The message is, death is good.”
That deliberate antagonism of his bosses aside, all of Lewton’s films intentionally used the horror/thriller genre as an excuse to make movies about social and psychological life in the post-war world. In “Cat People,” Lewton depicts a cheerful, peace time America that equates a secure society with a homogenous one.
The “monster” is the foreign other who has infiltrated the American family by marrying a boring American man, and in a foreshadowing of the 1950s’ totally mixed-up ideas about women and sex, this exotic creature has to remain chaste in order to keep the monster locked up inside her.
If I had to explain what Lewton meant by the idea that his “message” is that “death is good,” I’d point to the fact that the harbinger of death in “Cat People” is also the film’s most sympathetic character, and is absolutely a victim of social circumstance. “Cat People” was a massive hit, probably because all of these ideas were subliminal rather than overt.
Do you see parallels between “Cat People” and Jordan Peele’s recent stated goal to make social commentary horror (such as “Get Out”)? Do you think “Cat People” can be considered a urtext for that genre (if not necessarily for Peele specifically)?
I think the genre of horror (or, supernatural fiction) has been frequently used as a vehicle for social commentary and criticism. I wouldn’t call “Cat People” the single urtext, because it’s not part of the first or second wave of socially conscious supernatural films.
Certainly it is a classic, but it was actually probably more innovative in its visual style than in its social content. In terms of looking for other foundational films, prior to “Cat People,” a lot of the monster movies of the 1930s, including “King Kong” and “Frankenstein,” and two of my favorites, “Mad Love” and “The Walking Dead,” use the stories of monsters, and the idea of a porous line between life and death, to critique society.
If there is one single urtext, maybe it’s Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein.”